NEW ORLEANS — Maybe the only way Thad Lewis can be removed permanently from a game is if the opposing team scrapes him off the field with a putty knife.
The Buffalo Bills quarterback appeared doomed after the first play of Sunday’s 35-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
Saints linebacker David Hawthorne crushed Lewis’ ribs and caused a fumble on a quarterback keeper. As Lewis lay on the turf with Bills coach Doug Marrone and the team’s medical staff hovering around him, teammates stood solemnly. Backup quarterback Jeff Tuel took warm-up snaps from Eric Wood on the sideline.
“The hit he took was scary,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said.
Lewis, looking like a prizefighter after 10 rounds, eventually staggered to the sideline.
“There was no doubt in my mind I was getting back in there,” he said.
When the next possession began, Lewis trotted back onto the field.
“We wouldn’t expect anything less from Thad,” Bills receiver Stevie Johnson said. “This is his opportunity. If it ain’t a broken leg, I believe he’ll be out there. That’s the type of player he is. He’s ready to fight for his boys.”
Lewis received medical treatment on his ribs after the game.
He took a game’s worth of hits on the first few plays. Hawthorne sacked him on the Bills’ third play. Defensive end Cameron Jordan registered a strip sack on the next series.
Saints defenders knocked Lewis around even when he got rid of the ball.
“He showed toughness,” Johnson said. “I know he was hurting.”
Lewis hung in the pocket for several throws despite blitzes. Saints cornerback Corey White twice was penalized for roughing the passer on a long drive that ended with a Fred Jackson touchdown run at the start of the fourth quarter.
“Any time you got a guy who takes shots like that and still competes,” Jackson said, “you love playing for him.”
After three games as the Bills’ starting quarterback, Lewis hasn’t looked like a castoff. Heading into the season, the term “journeyman” would have seemed generous.
He completed 22 of 39 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
“He did a good job,” Wood said. “He’s a fighter, a confident guy, good ballplayer. He showed us that again. We would like to make more plays around him and put him in better situations.”
Lewis wasn’t alone in refusing to stay on the sidelines.
Johnson limped throughout the game and needed to come out a couple of times because of a left hip flexor injury. Running back Tashard Choice went down with a left leg injury but played again. Defensive backs Da’Norris Searcy and Leodis McKelvin also were escorted off the field by medical staffers but returned.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” Lewis said. “That’s the type of commitment to excellence this team has. You’re going to get nicked up in this game. It’s football. It’s a physical sport.
“It’s going to take more than a little bruise and a bump to keep you out of the game.”
Bills receiver Marquise Goodwin suffered a left elbow injury while making a catch late in the fourth quarter. He was carted off to the locker room. His status should be updated today.
C.J. Spiller said throughout the week he wanted to play on his sprained left ankle. The only way to keep him off the field would’ve been for the Bills to deactivate him.
Marrone did just that, scratching Spiller for the first time in the running back’s career. Spiller had played 44 straight games, the fifth-longest active streak among all running backs.
“I wasn’t ready,” Spiller told The News. “It was Coach Marrone’s decision. I respected that.
“Everybody knew that I wanted to play. I wanted to help us win. But it was best for me so I can get back to playing normally.”
Bills linebacker Manny Lawson also owned the fifth-longest streak at his position. His ended at 81 games because of a hamstring injury.
Marrone lost a pair of challenges early in the fourth quarter, costing the Bills two timeouts and denying them the chance to challenge again for the rest of the game.
Marrone has failed in all three of his challenges this year and declared he would correct the problem.
“I have to do a better job of changing the process of our challenges,” Marrone said. “We haven’t been successful in that. If we keep it the same, how do I expect that to change?”
He challenged two spots Sunday, the first alleging Jackson crossed the goal line on the first play of the fourth quarter and the second alleging Saints running back Pierre Thomas didn’t pick up a first down on a third-and-1 run.
Neither replay provided indisputable evidence to overturn the on-field call.
“That is my fault, period,” Marrone said. “I am the head coach.”
Bills defensive end Mario Williams recorded another sack. His 11 sacks are the most through eight games in Bills history. Bruce Smith had 10 sacks through the first half of the 1997 season.
The Bills have 27 sacks, the third time they’ve had at least that many through eight games. They also did it in 1964 and 1997.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw five touchdown passes for the eighth time, breaking a tie with Peyton Manning for the most quintuples in NFL history.
Brees also extended his streak with at least 200 yards passing to 38 games.
The Saints have such a pass-happy offense that despite being 6-1, Thomas’ 65 rushing yards were a season-high for the team.
Bills kicker Dan Carpenter missed a field-goal attempt after converting 15 in a row, including the last-minute winner against the Miami Dolphins a week earlier.
Carpenter had the chance to give the Bills a lead 5:17 into Sunday’s game, but his 50-yard try went outside the right post.